Ek Thi Ladki (1949)

Harvey’s recent post on Mr Sampat sparked off a brief discussion on one of Hindi cinema’s finest character actors, Motilal. Since Motilal was known—at least in the 50’s and 60’s—as a character actor, it seemed appropriate to review a film in which he’s the hero. Not that Ek Thi Ladki (‘There was a girl’) really allows much scope for a hero. True to its name, it centres around its heroine, the spunky and vivacious Meena Shorey. But Motilal is a very likeable leading man; I S Johar, in his debut, is a deliciously crooked crook; and one of my favourite vamps—Kuldeep Kaur—is in it too.

The film starts off on a morose note, with Meena (Meena Shorey) getting it in the neck from her landlady for not paying rent. Meena is an orphan, with not a soul in the world to call her own. The landlady tells Meena that today is Meena’s last chance to pay up. Meena, however, is hopeful of getting a job: she’s been called for an interview at an office.
Poor girl. Her luck’s so down, when she enters the office of the man she’s supposed to meet, she discovers that someone’s skewered him to his desk with a dagger through his back:

Meena has the good sense not to touch the dagger, but she’s already been seen—by two thieves, Sohan (I S Johar) and Mohan (?). Sohan and Mohan have just emerged from jail after serving their nth sentence. They’d been meaning to borrow some money off the dead man; now, looking in through the window, they decide they’d better run before someone pins the crime onto them.

But in the hullabaloo that ensues, it’s Meena whom suspicion falls on. Everybody in the office comes crowding around. In the melee, Meena manages to escape—straight into the hands of Sohan and Mohan. They’ve already decided between themselves that Meena can be a useful ally; now they tell her that they’ll take her under their wing and help her get away from the crowd, since they know she isn’t the murderer.

Gullible Meena is easily taken in. Sohan and Mohan tell her that the best way for her to stay clear of the law would be to disguise herself—as a princess—and they (Sohan and Mohan) will be her secretaries. To kit themselves out, they pressure Meena into pawning a gold necklace she’s wearing.
I personally don’t think wearing shimmery salwar-kurtas makes Meena Shorey look anything other than herself, but Meena seems to think it’s a believable disguise. Sohan and Mohan take her along and they check into a posh hotel, passing Meena off as the Princess of Champatpur.

The Princess of Champatpur unwittingly drops one brick after the other, but Sohan and Mohan cover up by telling the hotel manager how unaffected and devoid of pride their lady is. The bellboy, bringing the suitcases, also drops a brick—literally—when one suitcase springs open. Sohan passes it off as an ancient brick from the Champatpur Palace; a museum in Bombay, he says, wants to buy the brick for a vast sum. Little does the hotel manager realise that all those heavy suitcases are stuffed full of bricks.

Anyway, Sohan quickly comes to the crux of the matter: he hands over a cheque for Rs 2,000 to the manager and asks for someone to go off to the bank and encash it. In the meantime, could the manager please lend that amount to the Princess’s secretaries? They need it urgently. The manager can keep the Rs 2,000 cash that’ll be withdrawn from the bank.
Just then, who should happen to pass by but Hukumat Rai (?), the police inspector who’s been keeping an eye on Sohan and Mohan. He sees the two up to what seems like no good.

And, seeing Meena going up to her room, he follows her, has a word, and shows her this incriminating photograph:

Her best buddies are ex-jailbirds! Meena isn’t one to stay around and watch what happens; she changes into her own clothes, gathers up whatever little possessions she has, and escapes via the balcony. Sohan and Mohan, when they see her running off, figure out that they’d best be leaving too. After all, the hotel manager will soon discover he’s been handed a fake cheque.

So we have Meena rushing along, and Sohan and Mohan rushing along too in her wake, trying to catch up with her. To avoid them, she eventually ducks into an office, where she’s mistaken for a girl who was supposed to come for an interview. Meena tries to say they’ve made a mistake, but she’s a bit tongue-tied, and nobody listens to her anyway. She ends up being hired as personal secretary to the Manager, Ranjit (Motilal).

She bumbles along a bit—for instance, she doesn’t know shorthand, so improvises her own:

…and finds herself being looked at askance by Ranjit’s jealous fiancée Bimla (Kuldeep Kaur). Bimla’s father owns the company in which Ranjit works, and Bimla is very possessive about Ranjit.

The next morning, Ranjit arrives in office to find Meena asleep on his desk—she gives him a story about having been too busy to go home. While they’re trying to sort out Meena’s penchant for sleeping on desks, Bimla’s father arrives. He and Ranjit get to discussing a certain Seth Shyam Sunder, whom the company is hoping to do a deal with. Seth Shyam Sunder lives in Delhi, and Ranjit has sent him a letter letting him know that he, Ranjit, will be sending a representative to discuss the contract.

Bimla’s father, however, feels that the contract with Seth Shyam Sunder is too valuable for it to be entrusted to a mere minion. Ranjit should go himself.
So Ranjit instructs Meena to book tickets for himself and for her, to Delhi. Also, she should send a telegram to a hotel, booking rooms for them in Delhi.

Which Meena does, diligently enough. The problem is that when they reach Delhi and get to the hotel, whom should Meena notice there but two old friends? Mohan and Sohan, none other.

Frightened, Meena quickly backs out of the lobby, to where Ranjit is paying off the taxi. She gives him some rigmarole about there being no rooms available at the hotel. And as luck would have it, rooms seem to be in short supply everywhere in Delhi. Things are so bad that Meena and Ranjit finally sit down on a bench in Company Bagh—and when it starts raining, get under the bench.

The next day, Ranjit is sore at Meena, and gives her an ultimatum: she’d better find them rooms, no matter where or how. Even, he says in a huff, if they have to wash dishes for accommodation.
Ranjit doesn’t know what he’s letting himself in for. Meena, scanning the newspapers, finds one suitable option: boarding and lodging offered for a servant. She reasons that since Ranjit had given her the go-ahead, this will be acceptable.

The lady (Shakuntala) who’d advertised is desperate for a servant: she’s sick of doing the housework ever since her previous servant quit. So, even though she’s:
(a) surprised that Meena’s so fashionable, for a servant;
(b) concerned when Meena says there will be two of them (the lady automatically assumes that Meena will be bringing her husband along); and
(c) taken aback when Meena implies that the said husband is more than a little eccentric:
—she agrees to employ Meena. And Meena’s ‘husband’ too.

Ranjit hasn’t been quite so fortunate. Seth Shyam Sunder (?) is very busy and has time to meet only two of the many people waiting to see him. These two, who claim to be well-respected owners of a construction company, are vying for a valuable contract. They convince Seth Shyam Sunder that he should award the contract to them, and give them a hefty sum as an advance. He is so impressed that he even invites them home for dinner.
Sohan and Mohan are up to their tricks again.
(They even dupe Ranjit of Rs 20 while all of them are sitting in the lobby outside Seth Shyam Sunder’s office).

When Ranjit meets Meena that afternoon, he informs her that he hasn’t been able to meet Seth Shyam Sunder. Worse still, the next 4 days are holidays, and all offices will be closed. Ranjit and Meena will have to stay on in Delhi till offices open after 4 days. He hopes she’s managed to get accommodation for them.
Meena, resourceful as ever, tells Ranjit that she’s discovered an old uncle and aunt in Delhi. The uncle and aunt have invited Meena and Ranjit to stay at their house. She warns him, though, that the two old people are somewhat eccentric.

And so the scene is set. Meena and Ranjit turn up at the home of their employers. Now Meena must keep both sides happy: Ranjit mustn’t realise he’s here as a servant, and not the boss of a much-loved niece. The master and mistress of the house mustn’t realise that the ‘husband’ of the jodi is not a servant at all. Even if she goes nuts in the process, Meena must play ball…

…and all without realising (or even Ranjit realising) that they’ve unwittingly become the servants of Seth Shyam Sunder himself. And that Sohan and Mohan will be turning up for dinner shortly. And that far away in Bombay, Bimla is steadily growing more and more suspicious of her fiancé’s sudden lack of communication from Delhi, and has now decided to accompany her father to Delhi to see what’s up.

Though it’s a little silly in places, Ek Thi Ladki is, on the whole, a light-hearted and frothy film. It’s fast-paced, often funny, and even though it takes a turn for the melodramatic in the last half-hour, it never descends into serious tragedy. You somehow know that things will turn out right for this ladki.

What I liked about this film:

Meena Shorey and Motilal. Great casting! Meena is enterprising, scatter-brained, a bit of a nut—and really rather sweet. And Ranjit, though he seems a little dauntingly officious in the beginning, has a great sense of humour. As a couple, they are delightful: she with her laughing eyes (even when she bursts into mock tears, which she does at the mere thought of being thwarted), and he with the affectionate way in which he treats her. They do have some romantic songs, but their sweetest moments are the most prosaic: like when she cries because she’s so unhappy, and he manages to cheer her up—then offers her his handkerchief. When she’s mopped up her tears, she blows her nose in his handkerchief, and he spends his time egging her on to blow harder!

The music, by Vinod. Harvey discovered that this was the Lara lappa film, and yes, it is—Lara lappa is the best-known song from Ek Thi Ladki, but there are other nice ones too, such as the lovely shikara song, Hum chalein door and the mad Dilli se aaya bhaai Tingoo.

What I didn’t like:

Some of the humour is unfunny. There is, for instance, a very bad ventriloquist in the hotel where the ‘Princess of Champatpur’ stays: he’s terrible, and his ‘funny dummy’, at whom the audience laugh their heads off, is singularly lacking in hilarity. Even otherwise, there are some instances of what may have been supposed to be funny (Seth Shyam Sunder’s initial interactions with Ranjit) but are just a little tedious.

The last half hour or so lacks the zip and pep of the rest of the film. It loses momentum, it moves from froth and farce to melodrama and a very unbelievable turn-around of character, and is generally not much fun.

Still, this is a light-hearted little film which, though it may not have you rolling in the aisles, will at least leave you with a smile. Enough reason to watch! And yes, Motilal makes for a nice hero. Not heroic, not macho. Nice.


42 thoughts on “Ek Thi Ladki (1949)

  1. Now I must admit DO, somehow I have not got or seen Ek Thi Ladki, but Mr. Sampat, I thoroughly enjoyed it. After seeing this one night I went off as a thoroughly happy and content person, the flow of the movie was just superb, no heart attacks, no noisy music, no heart beats going at 100 mph….)

    Motilal Rajvansh Saheb was one of the g8’s, who can forget his superbly performed-
    zindagi khwaab hai khwaab mein jhoothh kya aur bhala sachch hai kya
    from Jaagte Raho

    This song is always on my HD.

    Btw does this movie of his his sound kinda familiar-

    Dr. Madhurika (1935) ????? .).)

    Cheers .)


  2. Hi,
    Motilal won the National Award for his role as the postman in Parakh. It was a superb film. I have reviewed it too.
    Motilal was really a fine actor. In his autobiography, Dev Anand wrote that he had once met Motilal when Anand himself was a struggling actor and told him that he wanted to become a lead actor like Motilal. This films sounds exciting. You’ve been watching some great films. Amazing!!! Long live old films!!!


  3. ash: Dr Madhurika? Nah, not heard of that one. And I have to admit that though I really, really like Zindagi khwaab hai, I haven’t watched Jaagte raho – I’m not enough of an RK fan to go searching for his films! But Ek Thi Ladki is worth a watch. Do look out for it.

    Banno: Madcap is the right word for Meena! She’s a very endearing character – totally loony, but charming too, in a very un-Hindi film heroine sort of way.

    Sharmi: Oh yes, I love Parakh too! Such a wonderful, heart-warming film. And the songs are fantastic: O sajna barkha bahaar aayi and Mila hai kisika jhumka. Great lyrics, and beautiful music. They don’t make films like that any more.
    BTW, another Motilal role that I think is landmark is his Chunnilal in Devdas: he’s brilliant.


  4. I WANT THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND SOON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This story sounds to be just great and what the doctor prescribed after Guru Dutt’s heavy films. One just has to turn off the brain and have a good ride.

    If Meena Shorey’s character could be clever as early as 1949 not to touch the dagger, why have all our heroes down the hindi movie history been doing it?

    The jodi of I S Johar and the unknown guy seems to be quite a one! I S Johar can be at timess very funny and at other times too funny. It is indeed a fine line!

    But somehow I am a little bit suspicious that your posting makes a better reading than the film can ever be! ;-)


  5. This sounds delightful. A fun heroine in 40s Bollywood?! I had almost given up on getting anything but preachy and/or self-sacrificing heroines from that decade. ;D

    Meena Shorey plays a similar fun character in Dholak, too, if I remember correctly. What happened to her? I’ve never heard her name included among the famous actresses of the 50s…


    • Meena shorey migrated to pakistan acted in a few films there but due to weight she clddnt land choice herpine roles.died a very miserable n lonely death i read with no one to visit or call her own


  6. Btw am so glad I got Meena’s super musical Punjabi movie Chaman, a DVD in fact, not watched yet, am sure its wonderful, with Karan Deewan, Omji, Kuldeep Kaur, Randhir. Majnu .)



  7. Ho ho just as Santa said…..)
    I gotcha yu folks there
    Dr Madurika
    Ms. Madhulika.. or is it Dr. Madhulika

    1-0 to me .)
    Surely the title of this movie just fascinated me, dont hv a clue on this movie, mayb I shud ask Trini bro if he has this !!

    Yep… DO. on the WANTED list Ek Thi Ladki, will def catch it soon, Motilal not to be missed. .)

    Cheers all

    bollyviewer, Meena had a very tragic ending, very sad indeed, pls read this-
    upperstall dot com/people/meena-shorey

    cineplot. dot /meena-shorey/

    One of her quotes and how sad and down she was-
    Once she mentioned that she felt like a dried up tree in a grove of green saplings that everyone is out to chop down and burn

    Like so many other folks from these years, Sheikh Mukhtar was another one !


  8. Harvey
    yeah IS is a character with exceptional qualities, I have to see his Mr India 1961 WITH Geeta Bali
    I.S. Johar
    Hari Shivdasani
    Praveen Paul

    It is hilarious if yu hv his type of humor, being a double Barrister at Law, he was special.I never miss any of his movies !

    Cheers .)


  9. harvey: Yes, you definitely should see this, especially after all that depressing Guru Dutt cinema. Great cinema, I agree – but oh, so unhappy at most times. This one doesn’t need any thinking. Lots of fun. :-)
    I have to agree with you about Dr Madhurika: sounds too much like a preachy sort of The Taming of the Shrew. Another awful film along the same lines – about how a woman’s place is in her home, looking after husband and child, and with no ambitions or thoughts outside that – is Suhagan. I watched it only because it starred Geeta Bali, but it was so horrid, I couldn’t even summon up the courage to write a review.
    P.S. Saw I S Johar in an unusual role the other day in an English film called Flame Over India (the original name was North West Frontier). Stars Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall, and ranks as one of the best train-adventure films I’ve ever seen. Very good!

    bollyviewer: Meena Shorey is in Dholak too? I remember you telling me it was a good light-hearted film, and my DVD rental company has finally managed to put the VCD on their catalogue. I’m going to ask for it the next time I order!

    ash: Thank you for those links to the story of Meena Shorey. I read parts of it in the comments for the youtube link to Lara lappa – very sad. I recall we were discussing something similar on another post, about how famous people can end their days in sheer penury. Someone had written about Bharat Bhushan having been reduced to travelling in buses… pitiful.
    I want to remember Meena Shorey as she was in Ek Thi Ladki: utterly cheerful, even when she was pretending to be serious.


  10. @ dustedoff: Thanks for the links! Flame over India/Northwest Frontier sounds good! Train adventures are always good! They are at times (most of the times) politically incorrect but they are fun!

    @ ash: Thanks for the links. memsaab has done a posting on Mr. India on her site.


  11. Surprisingly enough, Flame Over India wasn’t as politically incorrect as I’d feared it would be. The Indians aren’t shown as complete gooks (well, I S Johar is one of the most heroic characters in the film), and there are a few offbeat insights into different aspects – from differing points of view, that is – of colonialism, communalism, patriotism, etc. And superb adventure! Plus, Kenneth More is an actor I really like.


  12. This one looks good to me because of the cast and that “Lara Lappa” song.

    I like Meena Shorey. I was trying to figure out where else I had seen her, and then I remembered it was in the Pakistani film Mousiqar:


  13. Thank you for that video, Richard! I’ve never seen Meena Shorey in anything other than Ek Thi Ladki, so this was an interesting clip. She doesn’t look too comfortable doing the siren bit, though – she somehow seems to fit perfectly into the role of the madcap Meena in Ek Thi Ladki. I wonder if that was how she was in real life – to some extent.


  14. I’ve seen Meena in Sikandar and Prithvi Vallabh, but she played secondary characters in that. Motilal reminds me of an old-style Hollywood hero type too, not handsome but comforting, or something. This is considered a classic of sorts, too bad someone can’t put subtitles on it. And get rid of those fIENDS eyesores…


  15. Motilal’s a bit like (for example) Robert Young or someone – not especially handsome, not macho, but just so nice. Kenneth More, too. I watched North West Frontier (aka Flame Over India) the other day and was raving about it, largely because it starred Kenneth More. Such a great actor. (That film, too, BTW, had IS Johar in an important role).

    I wish Friends would realise they’ll only lose viewers this way, if they go on devoting more screen space to their logo than to the film itself. Grrrrr!!!!


  16. This sounds like so much fun! I have never seen any of Meena Shorey’s movies. What I liked the best was her un-Hindi film type role. When I was reading it I was like – Wow!!! 1940’s and the heroine sounds so cheerful and care-free.


  17. Yes, that’s exactly what I liked about the Meena character in Ek Thi Ladki: she was a bit of a clown, scatter-brained and not at all the glamorous type (or the self-sacrificing, wilting lily) that most Hindi films depict. A refreshing change!


  18. which month in 1965 did Motilal Rajvansh die? ANy ide aont he date or MONTH atleast, that would help us pay tribute to the great personality with playing some of his songs. Please help, thank you


  19. Quite a shocker that no one has any record of Motilal Bhaus date of death, one of the finest actors of the Cinema without doubt.
    And for readers who may not be aware-

    Singer Mukesh Bhai
    was discovered by actor Motilal in the the year 1940.

    And this saying of his sums up the way he lived
    Married a 100 times, died almost twice, never born but always brought down by a parachute

    A legend



  20. Singer Mukesh Bhai was discovered by actor Motilal in the the year 1940.

    Yes, I mentioned that in my post on Mukesh’s songs. One reason why I like Zindagi khwaab hai: it’s picturised on Motilal.


  21. The other crook with IS Johar is Majnu. Meena Shorey settled in Pakistan and more or less disappeared from movie industry. She did act in some movies in Pakistan, but did not say in the upper tier of film stars.
    This movie is a very light and good movie.


    • Thank you for telling me about Majnu! I actually did discover that fact later, while I was doing some research on Meena and Roop Shorey’s films… I wish it were easier to get hold of Meena Shorey’s films, she did some delightful ones. Even more than Ek Thi Ladki, I like Dholak. It was fantastic.


  22. Pingback: Forgotten Composers, Unforgettable Melodies (2) – Vinod | Songs Of Yore

  23. This is the movie which had the all-time delectable ‘Lara-lappa, lara-lappa…’ song. Meena Shorey became an overnight sensation with that one. Sadly, her life ended in tragic circumstances years later in Pakistan.


  24. Where does one get the full movie? And other Meena Shorey starrers?
    I am looking for all movies directed by Roop K Shorey, and would really appreciate any help.


  25. Finally got to see this movie today. Totally agree with your review – it’s light-hearted and good fun. And yes, though the last half an hour isn’t quite as much fun, overall it’s definitely worth a watch. It is available on youtube.


    • Glad you liked it, Raja! Have you seen Dholak, by the way? Also Meena Shorey (opposite Ajit), and in my opinion even better than Ek Thi Ladki, because it manages to maintain the fun throughout the film.

      Thanks for the link. I hope others get around to watching it too!


  26. Just watched this film on VCD! I just loved watching every minute of it. Meena is delightfully charming, and the chemistry between Motilal and her is fantastic. I was overjoyed to find two Rafi duets that I had never heard before, both very melodious and soulfully sung with lata in 1949 there is outdoor shooting in Dal lake and shikara in Kashmir, possibly the first of the several hundreds to follow later! The vamp has performed very well and the the I S Johar double act is refreshing too. Overall nice entertainment, a film much ahead of its time!


    • Glad you liked this film – it’s a very enjoyable one. Personally, I prefer Meena Shorey in Dholak (opposite Ajit – they make a fantastic pairing), but I watched it after I watched Ek Thi Ladki, so no mention of it appears in this post. Try and get hold of it – Meena Shorey is equally, if not more, charming and peppy in that.


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